Household goods giant Procter & Gamble Co. said yesterday it will end animal tests for its current beauty, fabric, home care and paper products, except where required by law.

The decision, which comes in the wake of years of protests by animal-rights groups, is effective today in more than 140 countries where P&G operates. It ends animal tests for 80 percent of the company's products, including color cosmetics, shampoos and hairstyle products, skin-care products, tissue and towel products, laundry and dish detergents and household cleaners.

The restriction, however, will not apply to P&G's food and health-care products, which make up the other 20 percent of the product portfolio.

"Science and technology have advanced to the point where we can confirm the safety of these finished products through non-animal alternatives," said Larry Games, P&G's vice president of global product safety.

Over the past decade P&G has been facing strong protests from animal-rights groups for use of animals in product testing. The Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) -- a vocal P&G opponent -- welcomed P&G's move, but warned that this would not end their protests.

"They deserve a pat on the back, but we are not sending in the flowers yet," said Jason Baker, Cruelty-Free Campaign Coordinator at PETA. Baker said the group wants an absolute end to animal testing. He noted that Colgate-Palmolive Co., one of P&G's competitors, has ended animal testing for at least 98 percent of its products.

P&G, with more than $37 billion in annual revenue, said that over the past 15 years it has invested more than $90 million in the study and development of alternative testing methods. These include the development of historical research databases, computer models, in vitro tests and other advancements in toxicology. For instance, tests for eye irritation can now be evaluated using artificial corneas.

"Our analysis of non-animal alternatives made us confident that we could move forward in this new decision and still maintain our safety standards," Games said.

Alan M. Goldberg, director of the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing at John Hopkins University, said that the use of alternative methods such as tissue culture and sophisticated databases would actually increase the accuracy of tests. "These databases have been developed over 15 to 20 years and allow you to ask very specific questions," he said.

Games said P&G will continue to support research to develop non-animal test methods for foods and drugs and new ingredients and technologies.